Surely you know this feeling: your agency charges you a fortune (at least compared to your budget) for creative work which doesn’t provide the results you expect. Their ideas are far from what you imagined, the promised creativity just isn’t there and the numbers won’t match the KPI no matter how hard you try.

So the question is: what went wrong? And, more importantly, how to fix it?

If you’re reading this odds are you are either an ad agency client or you see yourself in such a situation in a not-so-distant future. This means the six most common problems described below should not be much of a surprise to you.

What you probably don’t know though is the way your agency is looking at those problems. This will help you realise where do they really originate from and what you can do to avoid them.


PROBLEM 1: MISUNDERSTOOD EXPECTATIONS
The agency completely missed my expectations. What I received is not even close to what I requested.

1The agency completely missed my expectations. What I received is not even close to what I requested.

MISUNDERSTOOD EXPECTATIONS

What went wrong?

Have you really been 100% clear about what’s the most important thing about your marketing communication? When the agency listened to your needs and goals, they might have paid more attention to other elements that you mentioned than those which were the most important for you.

There is another explanation as well. Assuming that you work with marketing professionals with experience in the industry they generally try to do what is best for your project according to their judgement. The centre of their focus may lay elsewhere than you imagined – because they consider it beneficial for your brand.

How to fix it?

Generally follow two single steps:

Step 1 – make sure you work with an agency that can be trusted.

Step 2 – trust them.

Let’s admit this, they probably have more experience in finding the message, that should be underlined in the communication than you do. You don’t go to a doctor to tell him how to treat you, do you?

Of course there is another side of the coin – it’s you who knows the product best, so if there are particular elements that you’re sure you want to show more boldly in your strategy – make it 100% clear with your agency.

Talking is great – you can communicate much more this way.

However, after the meeting take your time to review the contact report your agency will surely prepare and make sure the stress is where you believe it should be and your expectations have been clearly understood.


PROBLEM 2: LACKING CREATIVITY
Agency grips tightly to my words and ideas. There is no creativity in their proposals.

Agency grips tightly to my words and ideas. There is no creativity in their proposals.

LACKING CREATIVITY

What went wrong?

Yes, it is agency’s job and specialty to be creative and think outside the box. But in the end, it’s satisfying the Client, not their artistic instincts, that pays their bills.

It is common that the client provides the agency with some ideas and concepts, which in the end turn out to work as constraints for their creative process, because they feel that if they go too far away from your wishes, you will not be satisfied – because you will not get what you expected.

As you see, this is pretty much an opposite problem to the previous one.

How to fix it?

If you want the agency to be creative, tell them just that.

Limit them only within the borders that are essential for you and that you know cannot be crossed while communicating your brand.

There is also one advice that works with both of the seemingly opposite problems.

Be clear and direct about what your expectations are.

The agency will listen to you, because, even if you doubt it at times they wants to deliver to you the best service possible, if only for their own good. But they need to know whether they are supposed to let their imagination go wild or stick with the standards.


PROBLEM 3: INADEQUATE RESULTS
Agency’s solutions do not bring the results that I am looking for.

Agency’s solutions do not bring the results that I am looking for.

INADEQUATE RESULTS

What went wrong?

Before you start looking for a different explanation ask yourself: have you communicated the KPIs clearly? Does the agency know the statistics you are using to evaluate their work? Did you agree on the expected values? If there were talks about more than one, did you highlight the particular metric that is most important to you?

If yes, consider the variables which affect the end result. There might be factors beyond agency’s control, which have adversely affected the numbers.

Lastly, have you suggested using the tools or channels that were finally used? Has the agency perhaps proposed some other solutions, but in the end settled for the ones you mentioned? It might be that the agency have not applied the most effective solutions, because they focused more on making you happy.

How to fix it?

Once again, clarity is your friend.

Underline the most important metrics and consult your agency about the reachable numbers.

Discuss them, but don’t make establishing your dream numbers as goals a condition of going ahead with the project. The agency will often promise you more than they can deliver in such situation.

It’s also important to pick the right KPI. If a metric with many such variables have been chosen the results will not help you evaluate your agency’s work since you will never be sure if reaching (or not) the goal can be fully attributed to the job they did.

Finally, remember to follow the directions for problem 2, especially the part with giving them some freedom. You pay the agency to provide you with solutions, concepts and methods based on their (hopefully) vast experience and expertise.

Only once they are free to go with their preferred tools you can really hold them responsible for the results.


PROBLEM 4: AMENDMENTS RESISTANCE
Agency is reluctant to implement the changes that I request. But they are necessary!

Agency is reluctant to implement the changes that I request. But they are necessary!

AMENDMENTS RESISTANCE

What went wrong?

We understand. First – you want your project to be perfect and second – people do change their mind during a creative process, once they see the drafts or sometimes even a functional product. You absolutely have the right to request changes in the project, but keep in mind how it affects the agency.

We hate to disappoint you, but they do not sit idle, excitedly waiting for another round of amendments. With many projects and a lot of uncertainty agency’s work scheduling is really tough and can be a source of much stress for account and project managers battling for the “resources” needed to implement your adjustments.

Plus remember – agency’s prices are calculated based on the predicted amount of hours spent by every specialist on your project. Their work has to be profitable, just like your own. The more changes they implement, the more they go over-budget – and that affect’s performance reviews of everyone involved in your project.

And then there are the creatives. They are essential in every agency, however hey are not always the easiest to work with and aren’t generally famous for taking changes to their concepts and projects well. This results in irritation of the entire project team and sometimes unwillingness to do their best creative work for your brand in the future, since “they don’t appreciate creativity anyway”.

How to fix it?

Never make any changes? In the perfect world, sure, but there are always some necessary, so let’s settle for a more practical solution.

Triple T: think things through.

Keep in mind project development process is divided into stages. If an initial draft or a mockup is accepted by you, there should be no changes to elements of the project that it featured.

If your agency presents you with a beta version – take the time to review it, and when requesting adjustments or changes – make them specific and well-thought out.

If you really change your mind and want to start from scratch – consult with the agency if they have the time, manpower and budget to do it.

You don’t want them to hate your project and be forced to work on it after hours. If they do, the final result will either be late or just bad. Or, quite often, both.


PROBLEM 5: RESPONSE DELAYS
Agency isn’t responsive enough, they don’t answer my calls and e-mails immediately when I need fast information.

Agency isn’t responsive enough, they don’t answer my calls and e-mails immediately when I need fast information.

RESPONSE DELAYS

What went wrong?

The account manager’s work is not exactly a piece of cake. He usually gets all the pressure and critique for the entire project. He needs to read your mind and keep you as happy as possible, while at the same time keeping the agency’s team coordinated and well-informed about your needs. And they are all human.If they can’t answer your call or e-mail immediately there must be a reason for it.

First of all, unless you leave close to seven figures annually with your agency, your account manager probably has another client(s) or at least minor projects to take care of.

Secondly, even though account managers are among the people with most versatile knowledge in the agency they will need help to answer some of your more complex questions. It should come as no surprise, that consulting an expert will usually take longer than 2 minutes.

Lastly, when account managers are under a lot of pressure and criticism from you they become stressed. This might result in their not being so keen to answer your calls or reply e-mails immediately, especially when they are uncertain how to react or what to tell you. Such situation can escalate in a vicious circle making the cooperation inefficient and unpleasant for both sides.

How to fix it?

Treat them taking their situation into account.

If you want expert and comprehensive answers you need to give them time to take care of your requests, to gather data efficiently.

Otherwise you will just get half-answers and – if you pressure them for a full one – either straightforward request for more time or even worse a guess or assumption which may later turn out to be wrong. And this doesn’t help anyone.

If you’re really on the clock or certain things are of highest importance – let them know and make it clear, but, as a rule, don’t put unnecessary pressure on them.

It is worth understanding, that an account manager, who is not only skilled but also highly motivated is an invaluable element of a succesful marketing campaign. Of course, they are no children to be praised for doing their job, but it should be no wonder that it does work best for the project if the account manager is able to get professional satisfaction from cooperating with you.


PROBLEM 6: EXTENSIVE COSTS
Agency wants too much money for their work. They estimate many hours of their work even for simple projects.

Agency wants too much money for their work. They estimate many hours of their work even for simple projects.

EXTENSIVE COSTS

What went wrong?

For you it might be just a tiny project to prepare or a minor change in design, text or functionality, but for the agency it usually means much more than that.

In an agency, taking care of your request might mean the time of: the dedicated account manager, project manager, creative / art director and relevant specialist, like graphic designer, copywriter and / or web developer. They are all experienced specialists, which means they see the need for things and adjustments that you probably don’t notice – and that’s why you pay them.

Even the smallest request possible, like that of a cosmetic change in copy – might (and probably will) mean several problems that appear in the usability, design and production and the time it takes to solve those problems (including consulting other relevant people in the team) is considerable.

And with new projects same rules apply as well as the fact, that all those time consuming changes have to be estimated and included in the cost you are presented with.

How to fix it?

If you feel that you’re being overcharged, ask for explanations.

Every agency must be able to inform you about the rates, personnel involved in your project and amount of working hours consumed (or estimated) and to explain what tasks have been (or will be) performed within those hours.

This way, you’ll know exactly what is happening with your project and the agency will know that you value your budgets.

Take a moment to review your agency’s rate card.

Bear in mind those hourly rates have to be significantly higher than what agency’s employees actually earn because of overhead costs, both personnel-related (higher management, HR, IT) and operational (office space rent and related costs, equipment, office supplies, out-of pocket expenses, etc.).

Additionally, not all hours of every employee can be billed to one of the clients. As a rule in Poland, only directors’ rates should reach or surpass 200 PLN/h with rank-and-file team members’ rates significantly lower. On the other hand, rates under 100 PLN might be considered suspiciously low.

Finally, cost of your project is estimated taking into consideration possible amendments they will have to apply during its implementation. Therefore consider following the solution for problem 4.

Simply said, if you have a history of requesting extensive and numerous changes, this will be reflected in cost estimates you will receive from your agency.


* * *

As you see – where there is a problem, there is always a reason for it. And, hopefully, a way to solve it.

If you work with experienced professionals, it is reasonable to assume problems appear due to bad communication rather than the agency’s incompetence or lack of will. And communication is yet another skill to be perfected, for the sake of your current and future projects – because let’s face it, unless you’re Google, as long as you’ll need marketing, you’ll need to work with agencies.

But what if you are doing all the above things right and the results still aren’t there?

Well, there is also one more possible problem. It’s important not to treat it as a default explanation for every mishap, however if other option have been depleted, here it is…

* * *


PROBLEM 7: YOUR AGENCY STINKS
There are agencies which combine professionalism, creativity and determination in reaching your goals. And then there are ones that… well, don’t.

There are agencies which combine professionalism, creativity and determination in reaching your goals. And then there are ones that… well, don’t.

YOUR AGENCY STINKS

Why?

There can be various reasons.

Some agencies have a hard time adjusting to the reality of new, digital media or ever-changing consumer. Others just don’t have the talent necessary to cut it in this proverbially creative business. Some despite having the talent are behemoths which lack the flexibility to take advantage of it, or to meet your particular needs.

But ultimately the reason doesn’t matter. What matters is, that the agency consistently underperforms.

How to fix it?

Do you really have to ask? Yes, you guessed it.

It’s time to change your agency and to pick one that will have the capacity to amaze you with creativity, deliver top results and make your project a priority.

Like Performante.

Visit http://performante.com or write us at hello@performante.com.

We’ll show you how it’s done!

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Dawid Wnuk

Dawid Wnuk

An experienced manager and leader in the field of interactive / integrated communication with over 40 international and regional advertising awards (be.net/dawidwnuk).

Head of the Creative Communication Division at Performante worldwide-operating interactive advertising agency (performante.com).

A firm believer in forging lasting and meaningful brand-consumer connections as a route to customer loyalty - a cornerstone of every brand's long-term growth.

Outside of marketing - an award-winning fine art and journalistic photographer (dawidwnuk.com) as well as lover, performer and writer of both music and literature.

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